SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ -- Uptempo offense from both Scotch Plains-Fanwood and North Hunterdon led to a last-minute bonanza as the Raiders' boys basketball team pulled out the victory, 74-69, at home Monday night, advancing to the second round of the state tournament.
The victory for the third-seeded Raiders over the 14th-seeded Lions seemed unclear until a pivotal play by junior Cooper Heisey. After a three for North, SPFHS inbounded the ball, looking to answer back to the Lions one-point lead. After a deflected pass to junior Dwight Laylor at halfcourt, Heisey burst through a couple of defenders to snatch the ball and penetrated into the paint. After being met once again by a Lion defender, Heisey ducked around him and stretched out for a reverse layup to give the Raiders the lead and the crowd a reason to leap from their seats in screams.
“We were down one and we needed a bucket and the whole game (the coaches) were telling me to go strong to the hoop and that’s what I did,” Heisey said.
“It was an unbelievable finish… We really worked on (layups) the past couple days and I’m just so glad (Cooper) made it. He deserves it, he works his butt off and it couldn’t have happened to a better kid,” SPFHS head coach Steve Siracusa said.
Although the Raiders ultimately handed the Lions a defeat, the contest seemed as though Scotch Plains-Fanwood would lock up the game before the first half after a 20-6 lead in the first quarter. But, a fast-paced North offense that would not let up on the boards found ways to claw back into the game, eventually getting the Raider halftime lead down to 41-31.
The third quarter continued to show the fight of the Lions, as North would use their high-pressured defense to end the period only down two to the Raiders at 52-50. The Raiders offensive ability was inexperienced to the defensive style the Lions were showing, causing SPFHS to take a different approach.
“We’re not used to playing that type of defense an entire game with the running and trapping but we played as a team more, made sure we got the extra passes and not try to get outside ourselves. We had some times where we slacked on it but I’m glad we got it together at the end,” Siracusa said.
In the fourth, the contest was tight, featuring multiple back and forth ‘and-1’ plays as well as three pointers to keep both teams in check. Until Heisey’s basket late in the quarter, both teams were trading baskets on every possession.
“Teams like that, it's never over. Their going to keep getting up their shots and need just a couple ones to go down to get back into the game. They had some great players, some great shooters,” Siracusa said.
The main contributors in the game for the Raiders were Heisey (12 points) and fellow junior Lamont Cruse (17 points). Both players established SPFHS’ ability to drive into the lane instead of settling for shots behind the arc.
As for the next matchup, Siracusa and his team are ready for Bridgewater-Raritan.
“Looking forward to just competing and playing as hard as we possibly can on Wednesday against whatever team we play, we know it's not going to be easy, but if we play together as a team and try our best I like our odds,” the coach said.
The Raiders will be at home against Bridgewater-Raritan at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday.